Looking Closer at Dreamcatchers

In a recent blog post entitled “Look,” were photos of a wall mural that included some versions of dreamcatchers. Because of the size of the wall and the limitations of the camera used at the time, not all of the objects could be easily seen. As a consequence, today I returned to that wall with a different camera and a longer lens. Here are the close-up images.

I also realized, after I published the previous post, that not everyone is familiar with dreamcatchers, so I did a little bit of Googling to find out more. They originate in North American Native culture, and specifically in the Ojibway and Lakota nations, and have become generally understood to hold the bad dreams and let the good dreams through to the mind of the sleeping person. In Lakota culture, Iktomi gave the idea of making dream catchers to a man in a vision, while in Ojibwe culture, it may have come from Asibaikaashi (Spider Woman). (Tristan Picotte) The objects you see in the circle represent bad dreams or thoughts that have been caught in a web as a form of protection.

There is concern that dreamcatchers have been misappropriated by non-natives who sell substandard versions of them to make money, and by people who buy them purely for decoration. (Kaylin Johnson) The shapes and materials used are significant to indigenous people and they can be offended by cheap or tasteless alternatives. Equally, the romanticization of a culture is problematic in that it can cause non-natives to see first nations peoples as not “real” in a sense, but as “other”.

Many Indigenous peoples are okay with non-Indigenous people owning a dreamcatcher, so long as they respect the dreamcatcher’s significance and culture and have purchased it from an Indigenous person. Where you get your dreamcatcher from matters. If you chose to learn about it and support an Indigenous person by purchasing their art, then that’s one thing. However, if you saw it while shopping at a major store and thought it was cute and don’t even know where or how it was made, then you probably shouldn’t purchase it.” (Samantha Zani)

Samantha Zani’s article, Dreamcatchers: Indigenous Views and Ethical Purchasing, includes links to a number of online sources for dreamcatchers that support indigenous peoples or groups.

I do not know the name of the artist who created this wall mural and have been unable to find it in an online search. If anyone to tell me their name I would very much like to give them credit here.

5 Comments

  1. Misappropriated? I think there’s no higher compliment than co-opting cultural symbols. There is literally no end to ‘appropriation’ of cultural ideas; the problem comes with this, what I think of as, inappropriate sense of having to first gain permission from some self-appointed cultural hall monitor to use a symbol… unless you honestly believe we should check in with the Turks to use, say, a piano, or the Jews to use jeans.

  2. Showing respect how, attributing significance to whom, I guess are the questions that make me feel this approach is entirely problematic. Who answers those questions, for example: the person who uses the symbol in, say, wall art or a person whose ‘blood’ is pure enough to ‘represent’ an entire culture? I know publishing houses in Canada have paid staff to be those cultural hall monitors and I know authors who are beyond frustrated that someone who isn’t a writer but one the so-called ‘Elect’ is empowered by the invertebrate among us to decide on behalf of everyone who may or may not say what to whom. That approach to policing others in the name of promoting ‘cultural sensitivity’ makes me feel exceptionally vulnerable to having my individual rights and freedoms slip through our collective fingers while supposedly for all the ‘appropriate’ reasons. Doesn’t that notion make you uncomfortable as well?

    1. I try to be respectful of all cultures, so when I am told that I might have done or said something that is not received well, I am forced to reevaluate. I can only adjust my perceptions once I know how my actions are received. It is not my place to question another person’s experience, but I can try to understand.

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